Sandi & the Accents at the Cinnamon Cinder
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Blue-eyed soul band the Accents got their start when guitarists Frank Mannix and Don Lovas were both hired to fill in for other members of a band called the Shadows in early 1962. Mannix was just 14, Lovas was 17, but both were already veterans of other bands. Mannix was in the Vibrants with a singer named Linda Young, and Lovas had his own band, the Galaxies, with drummer Tony Johnson.

The foursome soon left their respective bands to form a new group they called the Accents. Mannix began to book the band for dances at public and private schools and various church youth groups.

In the summer of 1962, 17-year-old Gabe Lapano moved to San Diego with his family. He enrolled at Helix High School, the school Linda Young attended. During that first fall semester, Gabe caught Linda’s attention as he sat playing the piano in the choir room and she asked him if he wanted to stop by one of the Accents’ rehearsals.

Lapano brought his Wurlitzer electric piano over to Tony’s parents’ house, where the band rehearsed in the living room. Like Mannix, Lovas, and Johnson, Lapano was already a seasoned musician and singer, having played consistently since the age of 14 with well-known bands in the Spokane area. Since the Accents had no male vocalist, Lapano’s high tenor voice allowed the group to expand its setlist.

Linda left the group because of health reasons, but the four-piece early core of the Accents soldiered on. The band was gigging steadily at area clubs and throughout Southern California. In 1963, they expanded the roster by adding Don Beck on tenor saxophone.

At this time, Doug Meyers was in the horn section of San Diego’s the Nomads, who played every Wednesday night during the summer at the La Mesa Youth Center. This was a big band with multiple singers and four or five horns doing choreographed steps.

In 1963, Doug Meyers left the Nomads and joined the Accents, while Don Beck left the Accents and joined the Nomads. You know how things go with bands...

Sandi Rouse

Another local group playing a lot of the same venues, the Valiants, featured a female vocalist named Sandra "Sandi" Rouse. When the Accents decided to add a girl singer to the band, they made an announcement about upcoming auditions at their Sunday dance. A friend of Sandi’s reportedly convinced her to give it a try, although she felt torn about leaving her group.

Sandi & the Accents publicity still

With Rouse now fronting the Accents, the repertoire could now be expanded to include songs that became favorites of teen dancers, such as “Heat Wave,” “Land of 1000 Dances,” “Be My Baby,” “Shake a Tail Feather,” and Ike and Tina Turner's “A Fool In Love.” She also joined Gabe for duets on songs like “Unchained Melody” and “Goodnight, My Love.”

A small record company named Commerce expressed interest, and the band traveled to record at an L.A. studio. The result was their first single, 1964's “Better Watch Out Boy,” a song composed by one of Sandi’s acquaintances, George Semper, b/w “Tell Me (What's On Your Mind).” The record climbed to the top 10 in San Diego and top 20 in L.A. and a few other major cities (it was reissued later in 1964 on the Challenge label).

Video:

Sandi & the Accents, "Better Watch Out Boy"

Single on Downey, California-based Commerce records

Single on Downey, California-based Commerce records

They followed this with a 1964 single on the Charter label, “I’ve Got Better Things To Do” (b/w “Then He Starts To Cry”), written for Accents by the L.A. team of PF Sloan and Steve Barri, the composers of “Eve of Destruction” and “Secret Agent Man.”

PF Sloan recalled for the Reader “They called and asked if I’d write a song and produce a record for them. I was about nineteen and my bosses in L.A. couldn’t understand why I was going down there. San Diego was considered creatively untouchable, mainly due to provincial thinking on their part.”

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Of the group, he remembers “Sandi [Rouse] had a really lovely voice and the band came up with some great guitar parts…Some of the members later went on to become the Wondermints,” he says, referring to the ensemble who eventually became Brian Wilson’s backing band. In 1964, Carter Records also released the lone single by the band billing them as Sandi & the Cupids, “If I Didn't Know Him” b/w “Rebel.”

Subsequent releases included “What Do You Want to Do” (b/w “I Really Love You,” Liberty Records 1965) and “On the Run” (b/w "He's the One," Karate Records 1965), both written by the Accents’ own Gabe Lapano. All of these were top 20 singles in Southern California, and they were also appearing on regional TV shows hosted by Lloyd Thaxton and Regis Philbin. Among the headliners they opened for in San Diego were the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, Herman's Hermits, the Righteous Brothers, and the Coasters.

By the summer of 1966, they were fielding offers of record deals from several major labels. However, all wanted total control over their bookings and image, and the band members were never able to come to an agreement about pursuing any of the offers. Then, Doug Meyers got drafted. As often happens at such make or break moments, the band broke.

Their August 1966 farewell show came to a close as Sandi and Gabe, for the last time, sang the Jesse Belvin classic, “Goodnight, My Love.”

Gabe Lapano also played with another successful local 1960s ensemble, the Cascades, who achieved a worldwide hit with "Rhythm of the Rain" and appeared onscreen in the 1967 teen comedy adventure film, Catalina Caper (later spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000).

Lapano also fronted the 7 Sons. Essentially a one-shot Lapano project, the 7 Sons released one single in 1967 on VTI Records, "On the Run," produced by Al DiMartino (producer for both the Cascades and the Accents) and John Gummoe (original Cascades singer).

Gummoe (who left the Cascades in 1967 to pursue a solo career with singles like "It's Raining" and "Come What May") and Lapano also teamed up in a post-Cascades band called Two Bits, as well as forming a country-rock band together called Kentucky Express. The duo was soon joined by singer Kent Morrill, with whom both had played in a shortlived group called Image, to release the debut Kentucky Express album That's Not What Lovin' Is in 1971. They split the following year.

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